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Politico Falls for Paul Ryan’s Spin

May 20, 2011, 10:02 am | Posted by Nick Sementelli

Archbishop Tim Dolan’s response to Paul Ryan’s letter yesterday has caught the attention of the Beltway press. Unfortunately, they’ve misinterpreted what the Catholic prelate was saying.

Politico’s story yesterday, titled “Paul Ryan gets boost from Catholic bishops,” features this misleading line:

The letter also clearly disputes one of the chief rallying cries against the budget: That it would hurt the poor to benefit the rich.

As we showed yesterday, this is decidedly not true. Dolan praises Ryan’s expressed commitment to Catholic social principles, but cautions that “assurances” are not enough, and the bishops will be watching what effect the budget actually has.

This is the consensus opinion amongst almost all of the religion writers who have covered the story so far.

Rev. Chuck Currie:

That’s no endorsement. In fact, the Archbishop is simply saying: we’re watching and will continue and weigh in. Archbiship Dolan refers Ryan back to a letter sent by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to members of the U.S. House of Representatives on April 13, 2010 in which they wrote [concerns with the Ryan budget framework]…In short, the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops oppose the heart of the GOP’s budget.

Paul Moses at dotCommonweal:

Some news accounts from Washington have fallen for the spin and reported that Dolan had written that the GOP budget plan takes Catholic social teaching into account. But if you actually read the letters instead of the press releases, it’s clear that Archbishop Dolan is non-committal on the Republicans’ budget proposals.

And Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter:

The first thing to note is that if Ryan went looking for an endorsement of his budget bill, he failed to get it. Dolan praises Ryan’s assurances of moral concern, not his budgetary proposals. Dolan focuses his attention on Ryan’s initial letter, not on the budget. Dolan’s letter, on its, face, is a tightly, carefully written text, but he was about to throw it into a political and media environment that is anything but careful.

MSW also includes a call for Dolan to clarify for the press:

The larger problem for Dolan is that the media is viewing this exchange of letters as mere cover for the GOP. Providing political cover is not a part of the brief of a President of the USCCB. Keeping the bishops united is. It is vital that in the coming days, Archbishop Dolan explain how this letter to Ryan was not intended to frustrate the positions already articulated by the USCCB.

I echo this request. It would go a long way towards helping secular media understand the nuance of Dolan’s position. Ryan and Boehner should not be given a free pass to misrepresent the words of religious leaders for political gain.

Update: Jonathan Cohn offers an alternate reading of Dolan’s letter, expressing doubt that the Archbishop intended such a strict firewall between praising Ryan’s letter and endorsing his plan.

“The president of an organization as dedicated to social justice as the Bishops claim to be should oppose the Republican budget, loudly and without hesitation. He should not be praising the budget’s architect, no matter what that architect said about Catholic values.”

While I don’t believe Dolan intended that suggestion, he should have anticipated how his personal praise of Ryan could be interpreted and used more caution to avoid the appearance of a split between him and the position of his brother bishops

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